THE Yorubas have an extraordinary number of proverbial sayings, and regard a knowledge of them as a proof of great wisdom, whence the saying, “A counsellor who understands proverbs soon sets matters right.” They are in constant use, and another saying runs, “A proverb is the horse of conversation. When the conversation droops a proverb revives it. Proverbs and conversation follow each other.” Several of the proverbs given in the volume on the Ewe-speaking peoples are known to and used by the Yoruba-speaking peoples; but they have hundreds of others which appear to be peculiar to themselves, and from these the following are taken as examples:–
(“Marry in haste and repent at leisure.”)
(“One man’s food is another man’s poison,”)
Many of the proverbial sayings run in couplets, and resemble in construction some of those found in the Hebrew Book of Proverbs, the object being to establish an antithesis between two consecutive lines, in which noun is made to answer to noun, and verb to verb. For instance, compare:–
The simple inherit folly,
But the prudent are crowned with knowledge.
(Proverbs xiv. 18).
A gracious woman retaineth honour,
And strong men retain riches.
(Proverbs xi. 16.)
with the following Yoruba aphorisms:–
The Yoruba-speaking peoples are fond of composing punning sentences, made up of words having similar sounds but different meanings. Thus:–
(1) Abebi ni ibe iku.
Abebi ni ibe orun.
Bi oru ba inu abebi ni ibe e.
Abebi means a fan, an advocate, or an intercessor, and the above is
An intercessor (with the gods) wards off death.
An advocate (with the judge) wards off punishment.
A fan wards off the heat when it is hot.
[1. See Proverb 218.]
(2) Igun ti ogun mi ko jo i egun. Stabbing is not like pricking me with a thorn.” The play here is in the resemblance between the words igun, ogun, and egun.
(3) Bi alapata ba pa eran, awon alagbata abu u li ajan. When the butcher kills the animal the retailers cut it into pieces.” Here the play is upon the words alalgata (butcher) and alagbata (pedlar, retailer, petty trader).
(4) The following is on the words bata (shoes), bata-bata (an onomatopœic word like our “patter patter “), apata (rock), ajulabata (chief drummer), and bata (a long drum):–
Ojo pa bata, bata-bata-bata, li ori apata; li ode ajulabata, bata ni igi, bata li awo.
“The rain on the bata (shoes), goes patter, patter, patter, as on the apata (rock); in the street of ajulabata, the bata (drum) is wood, the bata (shoes) are of hide.”
(5) Igba dodo li agbado, igba ni? “What supports the people if it is not maize?” Here the play is on igba dodo and agbado.
It is a favourite game to repeat as fast as possible sentences difficult to pronounce, like the following:–
Iyan mu ire yo; iyan ro ire ru. “When there is famine the cricket is fat” (that is, is considered good enough to eat); “when the famine is over the cricket is lean” (i.e., is rejected).
Kanakana ba kanakana ja, kanakana da kanakana. “The crow met the crow and fought, the crow beat the crow.”
The two following are examples of a play of a different sort:–
(1) The cry of the squirrel sounds like the word korokoro, whence “It was the squirrel’s own mouth that betrayed her, for when she had brought forth two young ones she carried them to the roadside and said, My children are very sound, very sound, very sound (Omo mi ije korokoro, korokoro, korokoro.)
(2) The cry of the bush-fowl (partridge) resembles the words kiki ora, “nothing but fat”; hence the saying, “With its mouth the bush-fowl declares its fatness, crying, ‘Nothing but fat! Nothing but fat.'” (Kiki-ora! Kiki-ora.)
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